CRE

The (not far) Away Day (part 4)

by Paul Carder on May 10, 2017

by @paulcarder (with a prompt from @FrankandBrown & others! ..in this tweet chain)

Scroll down for the story so far. Three managers met at the bar of a corporate training centre. Frankie (from HR), Sam (from FM – Facilities Management), and Jules (from CRE – Corporate Real Estate). There has been some discussion, largely around the mystery of why the HR Director has called this Away Day, “so we actually talk to each other, and share information and experiences”. But then, Sam met Charlie (IT Strategy) who provided an insight.

Charlie left, to get showered and changed for dinner. Sam was considering doing the same, just as Jules returned to the bar. “Got a few minutes, Sam?” asked Jules. As FM reports into CRE, Sam took that more as a statement than a question. Jules didn’t wait for a reply anyway, “I’ve had an email from the Finance Director …keen to engage an architect to do some modelling of what we may actually need in terms of the new HQ …options, stats, etc.”

Sam raised an eyebrow, in a Roger Moore style. “The FD didn’t mean ‘architect’ though, right?”

“Why not?” asked Jules, keen to get on to the real purpose of the discussion.

Sam left a short pause, for Jules to continue. But it wasn’t going to happen, so Sam replied, “Well, just that I thought we might develop an outline brief first, so we can give the architect a better idea of what we are looking for”.

Jules wasn’t in the mood for a philosophy on how to deliver buildings, having owned the firm’s ‘estate plan’ and appointed teams to deliver major capital projects for years. Jules replied, “Have you read the RIBA Plan of Work, Sam? Stage 1 – Preparation and Brief. Architects are trained to take a brief …and we have the experience to brief the architect …where’s the problem?” 

Jules assumed that Sam wouldn’t know, having moved from a hotel management background into FM. But overlooked the fact that Sam had worked on the development of hotels.

“Stage 0 – Strategic Definition… added in the new 2013 Plan of Work” replied Sam, “and you find me an experienced architect who has a deep knowledge of that, and I’ll buy you an expensive dinner, Jules”.

Jules retorted, impatiently, “So, what’s solution? I was just going to ask you if you have experience working with any of the large firms?”

“I have worked with a couple” Sam replied, “But, in the hotel group we had an evidenced-based design …EBD… approach. This was actually led by the marketing team, and their customer insight managers. In fact, it was essentially a research function. The unit head had a PhD in Organisational Anthropology …really interesting guy. If you walked through a hotel with him, you saw it differently – not just a building, but a series of processes and human interactions, stimulated or facilitated by the physical environment.”

Sam realized that Jules had switched off. Time to step back, and build up slowly. Sam knew that architects, surveyors and engineers…the building team…we’re generally not well versed in social science. But that was exactly what this project needed. Behaviourists, psychologists, organizational development …maybe from HR? Maybe there may be people in Marketing? Certainly, there were consultants out there. But not architects!

“You look a bit tired, Jules” said Sam, “Shall we get some dinner?” Jules agreed; not sold on all this research stuff, but hungry. It was tiring working with Sam…but, grudgingly, it was interesting.

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The (not far) Away Day (part 3)

by Paul Carder on May 9, 2017

by @paulcarder (with contributions from @therealsulim & others!)

Scroll down for the story so far. Three managers met at the bar of a corporate training centre. Frankie (from HR), Sam (from FM – Facilities Management), and Jules (from CRE – Corporate Real Estate). There has been some discussion about a potential plot unfolding. Mostly because the HR Director has called this Away Day, “so we actually talk to each other, and share information and experiences”. 

Back at the bar….

Frankie has left, for dinner with the HR Director. Jules has gone to catch up on emails. Sam is left thinking. Is this the opportunity for FM to get out from under CRE? And more importantly, the cost-reduction focus of Finance? The new HQ project could be an opportunity to prove that FM is not a ‘bolt-on’ to CRE. Sam recalls some of the experiences gleaned in setting up hotels, and how much of it can be transferred to the new HQ facility.

As Sam considers the move (in more ways than one), Charlie, the IT Strategy guru, crashes through the doors from the gym. “Hey Sam, how’s it going? You’re looking a bit serious there.” Sam looks up with a smile. Charlie is an atypical IT colleague. Being extrovert in IT tends to mean looking down at someone else’s shoes. But that’s not Charlie.

“You may look serious in a moment, when I tell you what CRE are up to with the new HQ” chuckles Sam, as he finishes his bottle of Eurofizz. “Two more beers please, barman …Charlie has worked up a thirst”.

“Thanks. So what’s up?” asks Charlie, perching on a stool next to Sam at the bar. “Don’t tell me… we are moving in twelve months? …I’ll need to tell the Telecomms this evening to be inside their SLA delivery time!” Sam smiles, knowingly. You can control any part of the move project, providing you work around the TelCo.

“No, I’m just kidding with you Charlie” says Sam, holding back on relaying what Jules has just revealed. Best to let Charlie find out when it comes through on email. As it will, no doubt. Sam continues, “I’m actually thinking about the potential role HR sees itself taking, and how we fit into that. Assuming that we’ll find out tomorrow?”

I’ve already had a pre-meeting” says Charlie, “with my boss and the HR Director. They have been in a huddle quite a bit recently. The new CEO is very keen to give staff every tool they need to perform at their best achievable level. They have even been bandying about sports analogies. The CEO wants people fit and well, in body and mind…. probably why she called me in, right?”

Sam grinned, “Fit in body, Charlie …not sure about your mind! …not sure I even want to go there!”

“Funny…but, no, seriously. HR is only in the driving seat tomorrow because the CEO is in Paris with Macron. She is friends with his wife, Brigitte, so I was told. The HR Director is a safe pair of hands”, Charlie pauses “not my words…but this is going to be an organizational transformation. Selling it to staff in the right way is going to be critical”.

Sam’s day just got even better. This was now looking like a real opportunity for FM to play a significant role in the firm’s performance, …even it’s reputation in the sector. It was starting to make sense now. This was not going to be an HR Away Day with invitees. This was looking more like the start of a new company culture, led from the top.

Charlie continued, “We have been briefed to ‘think out of the box’ on this one. Really push the envelope”. Sam was getting full MBA delivery mode here. “Performance and agility are the top priority. Procurement will be involved, of course, but not in the usual penny-pinching way. We don’t have a blank cheque here, but the CEO wants a ‘wow factor’ to attract the smartest kids coming out of Uni. We have to give them better ‘kit & comms’ than they have in their pocket. And free them up to use it.” Charlie was on a roll now, smiling “our IT Operations guys are going to have to live with a lot of flexibility and user customization. Set the people free!”

Sam chipped in, “Great – fewer desks, more sofas!”, half-joking. That had not been the culture of the firm.

“Absolutely!” exclaimed Charlie, “fewer desks, no desk phones, no PCs, …and as wireless as we can get it …we’ll have a bun-fight over printers, but the fewer the better”.

Sam paused, deliberately, “It’s gonna look more like a hotel”. That was a plant, and well timed.

Charlie thought for a few seconds, and replied, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that.”

Sam and Charlie were going to get along on this project. Now just to take the others with them….the tough part.

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The (not far) Away Day (part 2)

by Paul Carder on May 8, 2017

by @paulcarder (with contributions from @therealsulim)

If you have read the story so far, in Part 1, three managers met at the bar of a corporate training centre. Frankie (from HR), Sam (from FM – Facilities Management), and Jules (from CRE – Corporate Real Estate). There has been some usual banter, but underlying that, is a plot unfolding? The HR Director has called this Away Day, which has surprised Sam and Jules. Apparently, “so we actually talk to each other, and share information and experiences”. They are not convinced.

Back at the bar….

Frankie has left, for dinner with the HR Director. Sam asks, “So what do you think, Jules? Is this an HR Away Day, with invitees from other Group Functions? Or, is something else going on?”

Jules went off to boarding school at the age of seven, so politics and intrigue come naturally. With a degree from a leading University, and ten years with a commercial real estate firm, Jules fell into CRE when a client offered the chance to move across to their in-house team.

“Definitely something more than just an HR Away Day” Jules replies, “Its not just CRE and FM being invited – I saw Charlie, Head of IT Strategy, in the car park. Procurement are here too. It looks like someone is trying to bring us all together. I guess we’ll find out in the morning!”

Sam nodded, leaving a silence to see if Jules would say more. It was unlikely. Jules was the deal-maker, a collector of information from all sources, but disseminated very little. It was the way of the broker. Information is power. But the rules of the game were clearly changing. Collaboration was the new game, and Jules was having some difficulty with it.

“You always have your ear to the ground, Jules” said Sam, smiling. “How’s progress with the search for the new HQ?” Sam wasn’t convinced that the firm needed to move, and was even less convinced by the buildings being considered. But more worrying for Sam was the limited input FM had so far been able to gain.

Jules took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “Well, the size of floor-plate we are looking for is scarce. There are developments in the pipeline, but not much choice if we want to move in the next year or so”.

Sam gave Jules a raised eyebrow, “I hope its more ‘or so’ than ‘next year’ Jules. We have three years on the existing lease. There is a whole programme of work to do before moving – staff engagement, comms, workplace design, mock-ups, furniture…not to mention the move planning itself.”

Sam could feel the tension rising, but stayed the ever-cool, unflappable Hotel Manager. Almost two decades in large hotel groups around the world had trained Sam to work with anyone. Many people had felt the difference when Sam took over FM a couple of years ago. Heads of Business Units had fed back up the line. Marketing loved Sam, as visiting customers and VIPs had commented on the great ‘atmosphere’ and slick management of corporate events.

But Jules held the CRE purse strings, and had the ear of the Finance Director. Sam was poised to jump across to another function, and get out from under CRE, if only the chance arose. Jules knows that. If Sam was able to get FM under HR, then a big part of Jules’ power base would vanish.

Jules brushed off Sam’s concerns, “We have time. There will be at least a year after we sign up, and we haven’t found anywhere suitable yet. But our current landlord has indicated that they may redevelop if we exit, and may accept an early lease break. That could mean a saving – our current lease was signed at the top of the market”.

Sam knew there was little point arguing. If there was an identified saving, it would be in Jules’ performance review! Sam could expect a myopic focus on Jules’ bonus until that was in the bag! And that would be true of the Finance Director too. But what if a case could be made, convincingly, to move FM under HR & Organizational Development?

Sam was convinced that the physical workplace, design and services, was all just part of the employee package. It’s what a staff member expects, working for one of the Group companies. Maybe the new CEO had seen this too? Maybe that’s why the HR Director had been tasked with bringing all the support functions together?

Jules left the bar to catch up on emails, whilst Sam ordered another beer. Tomorrow may be the start of something.

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The (not far) Away Day (part 1)

by Paul Carder on May 3, 2017

by @paulcarder

Three managers walk into the bar [always a good place to start]. They all have gender-neutral names, so I’ll leave you to work out whether they may be male or female. Not that it matters in this context.

Frankie gets there first. “Hi. Large glass of wine please. What do you have?” The young barman pauses, and replies “We have…red…or…um…white. Um…oh, and pink”. Frankie thinks, and orders a beer. Its a corporate training centre. What can you expect? A wine list?

“Hey, Frankie – I’ll get that. And another please barman” says Sam. “It’s good to see you’re here representing HR – we don’t get chance to talk in the office”.

“Thanks Sam. Well I do walk up to your floor, but you’re never at your desk. And booking a meeting room is an operation in itself. I blame FM [smiles]” says Frankie, as the barman opens two bottles of bland EuroFizz. There’s no real ale either, as usual.

Sam thinks quickly, “Well, there’s the thing, you see. If HR didn’t insist on everyone having a desk, we would be able to create more meeting rooms…most of my team, especially me, are rarely at our desks [smiles back]”. Touché. Or touchy. This has been a battle ground for a while.

“Anyway, that’s why we are here, right?” says Sam, “to discuss what successful Workplace Management means to the Group Companies, who should lead it forward, and how…should be interesting”.

Jules jumps in, now off the mobile, “Hi Sam. Hi…Frankie? We haven’t met. I’m Head of Corporate Real Estate…CRE on your agenda. Good to see HR is here”.

Sam looks surprised, “Hey, Jules. I didn’t realise you hadn’t met Frankie. I thought you would be up in HR all the time, with your headcount planning files”. Jules smirks, with a knowing look towards Sam. Both know very well that HR is a net receiver of information, and has the reputation for never having current data.

Frankie knows. “That’s why the HR Director called this Away Day, of course. So we actually talk to each other, and share information and experiences”. Jules smiles, “Yeess…mmm…I read that on the agenda too. I sniff an ulterior agenda, not written on that paper there Frankie”.

Frankie knows, again. The HR Director is on the Group ExCo. But CRE reports into Finance, not even to the FD, but one level down. And FM reports into CRE, as it has done for many years, since the Group ‘centre’ was formed. The HR Director has initiated this Away Day. But only Frankie knows why.

“Jules, you old cynic. We just want to share information and experiences.” says Frankie.

Sam chips in, “Its unusual, that’s all. We usually have an Away Day with just CRE, FM and a few people from Finance. We may get a pitch from HR, but that’s usually about it. …I mean, it’s good. But, we were surprised that this is being led by the HR Director.”

Frankie is thinking how to reply, without giving away tomorrow’s opening speech by the boss. But, avoids it with a quip resembling Theresa May, “It’s about strong and stable governance!” she smiles.

Jules snorts, “It’s gunna be a beautiful thing!” in a bad Donald Trump impression.

They all laugh, and move the conversation onto politics. But Frankie knows. Its not going to be a beautiful thing. At least, not for Jules and Sam.

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HR > Finance > CRE > FM

by Paul Carder on July 22, 2016

by @paulcarder

This is a simple post. It is intended to cause a good-natured argument amongst professionals.

I’m more interested in how things are achieved, by whom, than perhaps by the end result. Take workplace transformation as an example. I’m not an architect or interior designer. Pictures of cool new spaces don’t especially interest me. I gave up sitting in ball pools when my children grew out of them. Like my good friend Mark Eltringham, I agree that “the reality is that for the majority of people, the office of the future will be a sober and nuanced evolution of the office of the present“. People like to feel that they are being treated well, their comfort and happiness is somewhat important to their employer, and they see money being spent on their new environment. But trends, fads, gimmicks and aesthetics are very personal – one will never please everyone, so I take little interest.

What really interests me (and many of my colleagues in the OJL network) is how organisations cascade their strategic aims to the various “workplace” professionals in their team. And how that team organizes itself to deliver spaces and services which are aligned and support the organization’s goals.

In the past (vague, I know… lets say, 10-15 years ago +), we all talked about the Finance Director (or CFO), and what she wanted to achieve. Buildings, and fleets of buildings (real estate portfolios) were, and still are of course, a significant expense to most organizations. Cost reduction was king, and therefore the CFO was the focus. Corporate Real Estate (CRE) grew out of the 1980’s onwards, and became the lead function in managing real estate. Facilities Management (FM) was operational, and mostly reported into CRE.

Of course, the CFO’s office is still involved, especially in large capital programmes. But the fat on the bone of real estate portfolios has largely been well trimmed in many (most?) organizations. CRE leaders have realized that tinkering with FM costs is the proverbial water in the wind. The larger cost savings come via portfolio rationalization (as do energy savings, by default). Much of that has been done too. What’s left is ‘fine tuning’ of buildings, to operate as closely to the ideal of the efficient factory (sweating the assets) or the efficiency of the airport, with people coming and going, checking in and checking out, throughout every day. Hot desking – or at least, fairly warm!

In the present, the focus has shifted to the Human Resources function (CHRO, if you must). Especially now that the economy in many regions has slowly dragged itself out of the deep financial malaise we all felt since 2008/9. Organizations are moving from survival mode, back to competing. And competing for ‘talent’ is once again a hot topic. As is getting the most out of people and resources (productivity) once an organization has successfully recruited people.

HR has grown in strength and influence (imho), and in many cases has become more strategic and future-oriented than it was in the past. Tools such as ’employee engagement metrics’ provide hard data (there is literature supporting, and criticizing, most employee engagement efforts – but there is no denying it is everywhere). People are expensive, and if we know what makes them ‘tick’ then HR can drive transformations in many areas of the organization. Workplace is one area. It is believed (at long last) to make a difference to how people work.

So HR is currently greater than Finance,

…Finance is greater than CRE (Workplace still has to stick to financial constraints of course),

…and CRE is greater than FM.

HR > Finance > CRE > FM

For now, at least.

FM is still operational. This twitter discussion this afternoon convinced me of that. Once again. I don’t see much change from the picture Jim Ware and I painted in the RICS-sponsored “Raising The Bar” (RTB) reports we delivered in 2012 and 2014.

We are starting work now on the third RTB study, thanks to RICS continued support. So if you violently disagree with what I have written above, do please comment below. Or email me, or Jim. We would love to hear from you.

paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com

or jim.ware@occupiersjournal.com

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A sojourn into biology, rewards, and place

by Paul Carder on January 2, 2016

by @paulcarder

For the time-poor, here: The memory of the great place where you went, replays (fast) whilst you sleep, and is stimulating the memory of what you learned. So avoid crap places/spaces if you want people to remember stuff…. OK, that’s lost a few people… a poor life this, if full of care, we have no time…

For the benefit of the reader who may wish to follow this little diversion into ‘real science’, I will provide a routemap via Google Scholar (which, in itself, if you have not used it, is an absolute treasure trove). So…in Google Scholar, click on “advanced search” (a drop down menu), and in the first box labelled “with all of the words” type the two words reward and place.

[why? – because I have been researching whether ‘place'(s) etc., corporate space, has been linked to HR compensation and rewards. i.e., does anyone actually think about place as a “benefit” to employees. Then I went off on this tangent… I urge you to do this too… regularly].

So, alongside the text “where my words occur” make sure you toggle to “in the title of the article”. Today, it gave me 75 articles …by the time you try this, there may be more.

Next, alongside the text “without the words” type in the words dopamine, drug, foods and “conditioned place preference” (we’ll come back to that term in a later blog!). And search again…now you may be down to about 33 articles. I have listed just the one paper referenced in this blog, at the footer below.

What comes next is truly fascinating! Real hard science about the link (mostly in poor old rats, but hey…) between place and reward. Not our usual social science, based on opinion, discussion, surveys (which I love, and practice, as I was put off statistics at a young age) – no, the study of brain activity by biologists!

First on the list is Lansink et al (2009) who introduce their paper with this familiar feeling:

Thinking back to an exciting event often includes the scene in which the event took place. Associations between specific places and emotional events are consolidated in memory, but how this is achieved is currently unknown.

Their research took a step further. In discussing brain activity, they demonstrate that “a combination of spatial and emotional aspects of a learning experience is replayed in the hippocampus and the ventral striatum during sleep, which is likely to contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of memory traces”. In layman’s terms, my interpretation, the hippocampus is associated with spacial awareness (or ‘place’), and the ventral striatum is associated with emotion. What Lansink and colleagues discovered was that, during sleep, memories of a place can (and do) stimulate other memories, and consolidate these memories (Memory Consolidation Theory):

  …the hippocampus initiates and orchestrates replay in connected brain areas. In addition, sleep replay occurs at a time scale about ten times faster than during the actual experience, which makes it a mechanism suitable for strengthening synaptic connections associating place with reward

Put simply, say you go to a really great place – a stimulating environment – then you are engaged in some activity in which you learn (perhaps a presentation, or even just a discussion amongst peers… a meeting). Then you go home, later you sleep. Your brain double-taps like Special Ops! It fires the ‘place’ memory, quickly followed by the ’emotion’. And the sleep replay is on ‘fast-forward’ x 10. The memory of the place where you went, is stimulating the memory of what you learned.

How does this make you feel about your next team away-day? Maybe you’ll persuade the boss that it really is worth spending a bit more money (or just being creative, perhaps) in finding a great place to meet up.

….but not that “Training Room” with no windows, in the basement….your hippocampus will not talk to your ventral striatum if you go down there! And you’ll all forget whatever Rupert from Group Legal took half a day out from his golf practice to tell you about.

As a corporate placemaker, you know that place matters. So do clever rats, biologists (and lawyers).

 

Refs:

Lansink CS, Goltstein PM, Lankelma JV, McNaughton BL, Pennartz CMA (2009) Hippocampus Leads Ventral Striatum in Replay of Place-Reward Information. PLoS Biol 7(8): e1000173. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000173

 

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Towards the Corporate Placemaker in 2016

by Paul Carder on December 23, 2015

by @paulcarder

I have been studying and thinking about this concept of the Corporate Placemaker for some time now. I trace it back to our work on Raising The Bar, a global study for the RICS which, after more than 140 years of history, seemed to coincide with their awakening to the importance of Facilities Management (FM). But, take a look at the link path, and it is Home/Property/FacilitiesManagement. So, FM is still a subset of property (real estate, or ‘real property’). But, is it?

I can categorically state (as we are dealing in how to ‘categorize’) that whatever we decide the “corporate placemaker” may be, it is not just property/ real estate or facilities management. Property (real estate) is heavily biased towards ownership (as its very name suggests), and maximizing the benefits of ownership of some physical asset. It can easily be seen how little the real estate market and professions care about the ‘use value’ of property by the comparatively tiny proportion of media dedicated to the subject (a key reason for our launch of Work&Place, our journal, in 2012). And facilities management is such a nebulous term which I sincerely hope can be eventually replaced with something clear and meaningful.

I think we are all searching for what to call real estate and facilities management, working together, are we not? Corporate Real Estate is represented in research, with Corporate Real Estate Journal (Henry Stewart Publications), and Journal of Corporate Real Estate (Emerald). But what is the “subject area”? – Property Management & Built Environment. As is also Facilities and Journal of Facilities Management (both Emerald).

But what of place in the context of organizations, and the people who use spaces and places for some other reason than for the asset? There is a Journal of Place Management and Development (again, by Emerald), supported by the Institute of Place Management, a body that “supports people committed to developing, managing and making places better”. Sounds promising. And the concepts are promising for the future – such as marketing and branding of places (corporate marketing take note!), the consumption of place (yes, that is what occupiers do!), and place competitiveness (again, a subject of interest to HR and corporate executives in deciding how to support their efforts to win the ‘war for talent’). But, before I get you too excited, this whole subject is about cities and town centres generally. Take a look at one of the leading Masters courses in this field and that is immediately apparent. However, this course is positioned in the department of Marketing, Operations and Digital Business at MMU Faculty of Business and Law, which is a good start! It is all about the use of places, not the built environment as an asset.

Still, nothing yet for the use of places by organizations and their people. Research and teaching has yet to make much impact on the ‘supply-side centric’ thinking which abounds in the real estate and built environment disciplines. The world of the occupier, or ‘demand-side’, is under-represented.

This is why I am so focused on the term (and hopefully the emerging discipline of) the “corporate placemaker”. I hope you can see where I am coming from. This is wider than corporate real estate and facilities management. It must pick up some of the social sciences and business administration disciplines covered by “place management” above, but focus on corporate places rather than city public spaces and town centre management.

In fact, my PhD study is grappling with exactly what it is to be a corporate “placemaker”. Leading placemaking for an organization, rather than wider society in urban spaces. The subject areas are diverse, and may include the following:

  • Organizations, Occupations and Work – sociological change, and the future of work;
  • The ‘draw’ of places – perhaps ‘place appeal’?;
  • The psychology of environment and behaviour (org. psych.);
  • Strategy and competition (esp. in competing for talent, a key HR issue)
  • Brand and image – marketing – the impact of place;
  • The consumerization of everything – including ‘the place to be’ on any one day;
  • The experience economy – not just place, but service, and experience;
  • The health & wellness debate: stress, work-life balance and related issues;
  • Workplace economics – cost vs value, taking all the above into account;
  • Corporate places, home, and ‘third places’; coworking; hubs; collaboration; innovation;
  • Home or away? – the only real human options (i.e., everyone choses either to stay at home, or to go somewhere… the default in the future may be to stay put! or work closer to where we live)
  • Management, procurement and delivery of places for corporations, employees, and their networks.
  • Relationships between the ‘placemaker’ team and the rest of the corporation & stakeholders.
  • The future provision of corporate places – new market entrants?;
  • A sustainable, low-carbon, low-stress future; we cannot continue the way we are today!

What would you call the management discipline which encompasses all of the above? The multi-faceted and strategically-minded role in large organizations, which moves between Group HR, operations, marketing, IT infrastructure planning, corporate real estate and facilities management?

(clue: the answer is not Facilities Manager. Though there is nothing to say that a good strategic-thinking FM could not develop into this role! But then, so could a good HR manager….)

 

Happy Christmas all… and our very best wishes for 2016.

 

Paul Carder

Co-Founder, Occupiers Journal Limited

paul.carder@occupiersjournal.com

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Robots, work and place

by Paul Carder on November 7, 2015

It’s the weekend. I’m not paid by UWE Bristol (my ‘day-job’) to think at the weekend. I can stop working (attending meetings, teaching, writing emails). But I can’t stop thinking – it’s going to happen anyway. As Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am”. This is part of the challenge of understanding what “work” actually is, for the few of us (knowledge workers¹) – most of the world is still sweating and grafting a living. They know when they have stopped work, downed tools, or whatever their terminology may be. We, knowledge workers, are probably almost as alien to some of the people doing ‘real work’ as robots are to me. All humans are sentient beings, and the robot is not. But the supposed equality of all sentient life forms would be lost, during working hours at least, on the person threading beads onto a string in India, for a rich person’s child to buy on holiday. These poor workers are robots in human form, in a sad and real sense, not like the androids of science fiction.

I have never taken much interest in robots until now, possibly as I have had little interest in what they do. But now I find myself interested in what they do not do! Robots don’t think. They are computers, with useful appendages. Robots are told (programmed) what to do, and they only do that thing when someone tells them to do so. That strikes me as being very similar to much of what we once thought of as ‘work’. Much of this work does not require a sentient life form – and the more sentient the individual is, the more likely their mind will wander, and errors will occur. Robots don’t think, so they do not get bored. So, we humans have creatively made robots which can, on the one hand take mindless soul-destroying work away from people (for a Forbes debate on this issue see this link²), and on the other hand remove their livelihood …a double-edged sword, if ever there was one….

But wait… what is this I am reading in the Guardian newspaper³ today? Robots can think! The article says:

“…the development of artificial intelligence means computers are increasingly able to “think”, performing analytical tasks once seen as requiring human judgment.”

Much of the newspaper’s article draws on a 300-page report, revealed exclusively to the Guardian, in which analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch “draw on the latest research to outline the impact of what they regard as a fourth industrial revolution, after steam, mass production and electronics”.

I have picked out two types of work discussed by the Guardian, which would not have been considered (by most people, I would guess) to be a possibility for robot-replacement: financial advisers and doctors.

“Financial advisers Bespoke financial advice seems like the epitome of a “personal” service; but it could soon be replaced by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that can tailor their responses to an individual’s circumstances.”

The implication here for ‘places’ is unclear, but we could imagine some scenarios. Informed users accessing the financial advice via their connected device, anywhere. Less informed users still needing to visit a financial adviser, to talk through the process (but perhaps not in the next generation?). And more work for software companies, located anywhere. In many cases, the user and the service provider (in this case, the adviser) do not need to meet, and the activity can be asynchronous. Will financial advisers offices and retail outlets be needed?

“Doctors Some 570,000 “robo-surgery” operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can read 1m textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnosis. Other medical applications of computer technology involve everything from microscopic cameras to “robotic controlled catheters””

Again, the implication here for ‘places’ is also unclear at this time. The medical service ‘user’ would generally need to be at a specific place (a hospital, or somewhere with the appropriate facilities). But the doctor may be elsewhere. In some cases the ‘user’ would be at home, or still at the scene of an emergency. These things already happen: kidney dialysis patients can have home-treatment machines, and paramedics can treat patients at the emergency scene using head-sets connected to a doctor back at base in the hospital.

Robots change work changes places

The two scenarios above are examples of how the physical places that have become familiar may change, or the proportion of use of places may change, through the increased use of robots. Fewer financial advisers (if that is the way things go) will mean reduced demand for office space. Other new service offerings may replace the old, and office demand would normalize. Conversely, we will always need doctors, but they may not work in the same way, or in the same places at the same times as they do today.

The one area which seems reasonably clear and certain is that there will be growing work for the location-independent digital employees. For example, the software ‘coders’, technologists and data analysts, who together make the computer-driven technologies work smoothly. Where will they work, and in what kind of places? Largely in offices, labs and service-centres; more of the same. Potentially, this ever-growing group of digital employees could mostly be located anywhere. Except where the service user and service provider are working on time-critical activity, like the doctor and paramedic. Whomever is supporting them will need to feel close by, even if they are not physically close. Whereas, a non-critical online transaction, such as the financial advisory applications discussed, could be delivered from anywhere in the same way as much of back-office of financial services is already delivered.

The corporate occupier will be most affected by where the corporation finds and recruits these growing numbers of digital employees. Where are they being educated and trained? This is a concern for politicians and executives at the highest levels – will your country deliver enough people with these advanced digital skills? Will they come to where you are now? Or will you have to build new facilities for them in places where they want to be? Spaces to think? I think, therefore I am…I want…I demand…  Robots would be so much less demanding – but quite boring!

Refs:

1. The Work Foundation (2009), Knowledge workers and knowledge work: A knowledge economy programme report, London, UK.

2. Vanian, J. (2015), Robots: Will They Steal Your Job? Fortune, 4th November

3. The Guardian (2015), Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality, Thursday 5th November.

 

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Development of a teaching ‘case study’: Wallace&Sprocket LLP

(Note: it would be great to receive your feedback – and perhaps, somewhere out there, real-life examples which are similar to this fictional example)

Wallace&Sprocket LLP is a fictional organization in the accountancy and business advisory sector, mainly serving the creative arts, media and film production industries.

Wallace&Sprocket LLP occupied a four-floor office in a CBD, all floors being approximately the same size, and serviced via a reception and lift lobby at one end of the building.

Wallace&Sprocket’s corporate vision for their workplace was to create a high-quality flexible environment which would be attractive to potential employees, and may also retain existing employees. As a professional services firm they had achieved an approximately 50/50 gender balance at most levels of the firm. But, they were finding that more senior women were leaving than men, and the Executive Committee (ExCo) had become almost 80% male.

The Director of Workplace Resources (responsible for property, workplace design and facilities management) had read about how remote working was shown to have increased employee retention. She had reported this to the ExCo and received the go-ahead for a pilot scheme to allow qualified mid-to-senior level staff to work wherever they feel most appropriate on any given day. Junior staff, and those working on professional qualifications, were to be allowed to work remotely when approved by their line manager.

The company’s specific aims were as follows:

  • To improve retention, and attraction of new staff (assessed by HR interview);
  • To improve levels of employee engagement (assessed using a survey tool);
  • To introduce agile working, where space was to be allocated to teams, but not to individuals (except for team co-ordinators, who would have a desk and be focal point for their team);
  • To reduce space used as a result of agile working, but to re-invest savings in the above;

Wallace&Sprocket’s ExCo agreed to follow this 10-step process, as set out below, and to adjust the solution to suit their specific circumstances.

1. Measure:

The first step was to deploy occupancy sensors (see example Sense from Condeco Software) at every existing workstation, and around spaces where people worked such as in meeting rooms. This was done over one weekend, to avoid any disruption to the business. The software was adjusted to measure occupancy at every ‘seat’ at 10 minute intervals (the software does this 24/7, for as long as the sensors are deployed).

A four week period was selected, avoiding national holidays or any events which may affect the analysis.

2. Analyse:

Towards the end of the four week period, analysts began to work with the sensor data, to understand patterns of office space use across the four floors. This analysis showed that average occupancy was 48% across the four week period. This varied by business unit and function across Wallace&Sprocket’s operations.

3. Develop:

Using the analysis, the company’s management were able to develop a workplace strategy and change management process.

The calculations were fairly simple, as an average across all business units (though adjustments were made for some, such as Tax and IT, whose occupancy had been around the 60-70% level).

With 400 people across four floors, on average only 192 desks were being used.

The company therefore decided to re-stack the office space, to move out of the ground floor. The assumption was made that if occupancy levels stayed broadly similar, and 192 desks were being used (average) then the company could cope with 300 desks on three floors (an occupancy rate of around 64%). This could be monitored over time, using the Sense software, to see how well the space coped with any fluctuations in use.

4. Implement:

Over a three month period, the workplace strategy set out above was implemented. The workplace change involved significant training of space users for ‘agile’ working.

This was managed by a third party (workplace consultant) who spent time with each of the business unit Heads, selected a ‘champion’ from each business unit, and held workshops with staff.

All staff were given access to a specially developed website, with a training course module which took them through the stages of moving to an agile working environment. In this way, business unit heads could see how many (and which) employees had completed the course.

5. Realize:

Wallace&Sprocket LLP was able to realize savings, on paper at least. The company was able to reduce space use, by one whole floor (25%), totaling 1200 square metres net internal area (NIA).

At an annual run-rate of approximately £750 per square metre NIA, the saving identified was circa £900,000.

However, at the time that the space was made vacant there appeared to be very limited demand for office space in the local market. So, alternative solutions were required.

6. Dispose:

As far as possible, clearly Wallace&Sprocket aimed to recover the £900k per annum running cost of its ground floor. As the company had taken advice from several real estate agents, and found that demand was almost ‘dead’ for a traditional sub-let, they looked into other options.

The decision was made to keep the ground floor lease until the next lease-break (not for another 5 years), and in the meantime to aim to generate to offset costs.

Wallace&Sprocket approached a leading broker with a brief to look for a serviced office operator prepared to take on the ground floor. Within a month, and still during the re-stack operation, the broker had found a local serviced office operator with two other sites in the area which were almost at capacity.

It was agreed that the serviced office operator would pay £600k per annum, and an additional £200k service charge for shared services provided to the space by Wallace&Sprocket facilities management department.

Wallace&Sprocket was able to therefore recover £800k per annum, to re-invest in its business.

7. Reinvest:

Wallace&Sprocket decided to re-invest 75% of the savings (£600k) into alternative ‘remote’ spaces for its staff to use, closer to where they lived. And also, work with a provider to issue ‘access cards’ to mid-to-senior level staff which they could use to access meeting rooms and workspace on the move.

The serviced office broker was also able to support this programme, through a subsidiary, and manage the card access system for Wallace&Sprocket LLP on behalf of its employees.

8. Train:

Wallace&Sprocket’s Director of Workplace Resources designed and implemented an ongoing training programme, for the following:

  • To train people to use the agile space in the office;
  • To train people to use the alternative remote space (nearer home, or on the move).

This training process is still ongoing (and will be for some time) as people receive regular refresher courses, progress interviews, and training is implemented for new starters.

9. Maintain:

Continuous improvement was always one of the key aims of the Director of Workplace Resources at the start. This involves continuous use of the occupancy sensors and analysis tool, to monitor occupancy (see below), but also ongoing change management.

However, this change management and training is seen as ‘business as usual’ now – the space is continuously ‘tweaked’ to get best value and use from the three remaining floors.

10. Loop back:

Finally, Wallace&Sprocket’s workplace resources team has learned to continuously analyse the occupancy data using the online tools made available by software provider. The company is able to learn, and feedback into further development.

Progress against original project aims

This is ongong, but early signs are that the project has been a success. In the first year after implementation there was significant take-up of the card system for use of alternative remote space. Ad-hoc feedback to senior line managers has been that employees appreciate the trust placed in them to work effectively wherever they deem suitable. Early indications are also that the staff turnover rate has reduced, but this will be monitored over time. The PR impact in the press has also been useful to the HR recruitment team. They have seen a slight increase in applications, and positive comments on interview for jobs at the company, with one reason being the flexible working arrangements.

From a real estate perspective, Wallace&Sprocket LLP now occupy 75% of the space they once did. The organization has re-invested in cards for all employees which allow them to book space remote from the office, often nearer their home. Overall net savings after this investment in remote working have covered the costs of implementation and software licences over a 2 year payback period.

NEXT?

This is a fictional example, based on what we know is starting to happen….have you done it? Do you know of a case study which we might get access to? It would be great to convert this fictional case study into one or more ‘real’ examples.

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PLACEMAKER: a cure for commuting

by Paul Carder on December 12, 2014

By @paulcarderhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/paulcarder

Type the words “cure for commuting” into Google, you will find 6,580 results. Type the words “cure for stress” into Google, you will find 212,000 results. And so on…. “cure for cancer”, finds 656,000 results

[and “cure for” (anything), finds 34.4 million results]. So we are looking for many cures for many issues. It is a very human facet, to seek to find cures to make the lives of other people more bearable.

Almost 100 times more focus (simplistically using Google as a lense on the world) goes on cancer than it does on commuting. More than 1 in 3 people in the UK will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Again in the UK, Cancer is the biggest fear but 34 per cent put it down to fate. Cancer is scary – it can kill you. Though thanks to great research, a lower proportion of people are dying as more cures are discovered, and as new drugs come on line.

Commuting is a cancer on modern life

Commuting is not really comparable to cancer, is it? Really? Come on – its not going to kill you, is it? …is it?

Not in the same way, of course not (though stress is a killer) – but commuting is a ‘cancer’ on modern life. In fact, it has been for generations now, and it is getting worse. You do not even need to be in a gridlocked metropolis to experience commuting pain. It seems that every city and town has its commuting problems these days.

Yet not many people, or organisations, seem to be looking for a “cure for commuting”, relative to all the other ills of the world. We all seem to be putting a sticking plaster over a nasty-looking growth, and hoping that will make it better. It is not working. It never will. It needs to go under the knife.

In fact, if you take away from the search term “cure for commuting” the words “stress”, or “chaos”, or “blues”, or “problems”, there are very few references remaining. Urban transport planners are looking to make commuting easier, less stressful and perhaps less chaotic in some places. But they are generally not looking for a cure itself. Most people seem to assume that commuting has to happen, and therefore all one can do is to make it less painful. It has become almost like a form of palliative care….i.e., sorry, we can’t cure your disease, but we’ll try to make your life bearable. We’ll take away the pain, but we know you’ll still have to suffer.

Work and life do not need to be separated in this way. Commuting is not inevitable, nor can it continue in its current form. It is bad in many western cities – it is far worse in many recently developed or developing countries. We may complain in London or Melbourne about traffic, but we have public transport.

Johannesburg is a commuting nightmare. The Gautrain airport service won an award this year for its airport service (Sandton to OR Tambo International). But that does not help the many thousands of daily commuters with no option but to sit in traffic for hours every day.

Some of the most ‘developed’ cities are hardly better than developing countries. This article from LSE Cities describes similarities between Los Angeles and São Paulo where “a much smaller area is accessible by public transport compared to the car”.

The cure for commuting is not binary, either-or, but rather either-and

All working people must commute sometimes. We all need to travel, from where we live, to where we need to be with other people. We just do not need to do so every day, without questioning the rationale.

Real estate professionals need to consider how many different options can be created to help people to work where they find it most effective. Some of these options are as follows:

  • working at home
  • working nearer to home (as Tom Ball, CEO of neardesk.com is pioneering) in work ‘hubs’
  • working at partner/client offices, nearer to where you live
  • companies providing their own small workhubs, which are more regionally distributed
  • and…of course, sometimes you really must be in the corporate office, at certain times

The problem occurs, of course, where the latter is the daily default option – and where the other options are not available, nor considered.

The cure for commuting needs visionary leadership, by corporate executives

Transport planners fight for resources to make commuting more bearable for the millions of people who must commute daily. But the cure for commuting, for many thousands of people who could make use of one of the other options listed above, must be led by visionary executives.

If a CEO makes a decision to implement various work and place options, as above – making clear that ‘the office’ is not the only (or default) option – hundreds of people can begin to get some precious time back. Their lives will improve.

In fact, so will their engagement levels; so it is a win-win for corporation and employee. Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”  discovered that 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. And when looking at what leaders can do to improve employee engagement and performance in their companies, trust was a key factor. And trusting employees to work remotely from their company office was cited as one way of improving employee engagement.

Build it, test it…do it again

As real estate professionals, working with occupiers of space, especially for growing numbers of knowledge-workers, we need to test out these workplace options. We need to build work-hubs closer to where people live – perhaps in their local main shopping street. We need to seek out those who are already doing this, and form partnerships and alliances.

Imagine a world where most employees could, for part of their working week, walk or cycle to their local ‘hub’. Not just the haphazard arrangement some people are forced to use today – taking their laptop to a coffee shop. But, a fully-functioning workplace, with people from many organisations, co-working together in their own town (or part of a city).

The challenge – as ever – is changing the mindset of executives and managers!

This is the one we all must work on! But the more facilities that are provided, to work effectively without the need for commuting, the more people will use them. And slowly, senior executives will see that they are not the domain of the work-shy, but rather they are used by highly engaged and committed employees who have just ‘seen a different way’.

If you own or manage a workhub, perhaps the way forward would be to try everything you can to entice CEOs to use your ‘hub’. Then they may just bring their people with them! We hope….

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